With a three-game losing streak threatening to become four, the Calgary Flames faced the suddenly possibly-mumps-infected-Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have long been a top team in the league, and the Flames tend to, well, not beat them. They weren't exactly able to break out of these patterns tonight, but they sure as heck tried.
In the Flames' defence, this was an early game for them, and the second of a back to back.
But is there really a defence when Blake Comeau scores on you? Forty-eight seconds into a game? Remember Blake Comeau? It's the same Blake Comeau. Mark Giordano flubbed, TJ Brodie was late on the block, and Comeau wired it past Jonas Hiller early to put the Penguins up by one.
That ticked the Flames off, because there was a scrum on Hiller's first save. For all the good it did, because while Brodie and Jayson Megna each went off for roughing, prompting four on four play, Simon Despres' point shot bounced off Kris Letang and in. The Penguins had a 2-0 lead not even five minutes into the game. During that time the Flames had managed all of two shot attempts.
So yeah, it wasn't pretty.
And it only got worse, when Dennis Wideman hooked Megna. With the best powerplay in the league and a 2-0 lead, the Penguins proceeded to... ... fall to the mercy of Paul Byron as the Flames' shortest player picked up the puck and singlehandedly brought it into the offensive zone, prompting Flames control of the puck and a great Brodie shot? And then get a breakaway right after?
(It was Paul Byron on a breakaway, you already know he didn't score. Marc-Andre Fleury poke checked him. Still, kind of a massive improvement from Blake Comeau scoring on you.)
The Flames even got a three on one as Wideman stepped out of the box, but Fleury had the save. Still, the Flames were the better team during the Penguins' man advantage, and that penalty kill seriously woke them up.
A Giordano stretch pass, a Jiri Hudler chip in, a Markus Granlund shot. A Fleury rebound. And who was speeding to the net alongside Granlund? Why, Johnny Gaudreau, of course. Gaudreau picked up the rebound and quickly potted it in the wide open net, taking a disastrous start for his team and cutting the opposition's lead in half just like that.
Some lacklustre powerplays from both teams followed: Robert Bortuzzo took down Mason Raymond, and with just a few shots about 1:30 in, Curtis Glencross hooked Craig Adams. The men advantages ended with Steve Downie nearly getting a breakaway, but Kris Russell beat him to the puck, and the period ended peacefully.
Somehow, the shots were even at eight apiece, but the Penguins very much won the corsi battle, 23-11.
With the Flames having calmed down and the game ready to be played on slightly more even footing, the second was the refs' time to shine. In that they called repeated penalties, but couldn't do it when it mattered most.
Let's begin with the first, when Evgeni Malkin easily danced around Brodie to generate a scoring chance, but in the ensuing chaos, Megna tripped Raymond. The Pens didn't have much trouble killing it, but Megna would soon give the Flames another chance, as he accidentally clubbed a pressing Deryk Engelland in the head with his stick. It certainly wasn't a follow through, and so Jayson went right back to the box.
While Gaudreau generated a pretty good scoring chance (this is not a recording), Fleury was ready for the Flames. And then Brodie slashed Rob Scuderi, negating the final few seconds and giving the Penguins their own chance with the man advantage. They displayed excellent puck movement, and it was certainly tense, but the Flames were able to keep the puck out of the net and the penalty expired. Brodie jumped back into the play, and had to skate right back to the box when he hooked Comeau.
Once again, nobody scored with the man advantage, although there was a lovely rush by Granlund down the ice and a cross-ice pass to Giordano to try to tie the game, but the puck didn't make it to the net. With the penalty expired, they had two quick chances on Hiller, and Hiller responded with back-to-back outstanding pad saves to keep his team within one.
Not enough penalties, though. Once again, Gaudreau (seriously, still not a recording) singlehandedly brought the puck into the offensive zone, shot it from a wide angle, and created a great rebound that none of his teammates were able to get a handle on. During this time Patric Hornqvist hooked him.
On the Flames' fourth powerplay of the game, Wideman and Giordano passed the puck back and forth a lot, but nobody thought to try to get a shot on goal. Which was a real shame, what with the Flames down by one and kind of needing a shot on goal to have any hope of scoring.
So, after half a period spent on special teams, what do you think the call was when Despres launched his shoulder into Ladislav Smid's head? Did you guess there would be no call? You are absolutely correct. There was no call. Smid was in a vulnerable position, and Despres saw it fit to launch himself into his head, but of course it was a clean play and not at all dirty or cheap or dangerous or anything like that.
But Brandon Bollig and Downie got testy with one another, so they went off for unsportsmanlike. While Smid went to the room, Despres stayed on the bench, and everyone had to play four on four. Because that made perfect sense and seemed like a fair call. And yeah, Smid's night was officially over.
The period ended with the Pens outshooting the Flames 19-14, and out-corsiing them 43-25.
Head shots sure are legal, but don't you dare trip anybody! Megna went off for the fourth time in the game when he brought down Gaudreau. At least the Flames finally had a pretty decent powerplay to show for it, what with the actually getting shots on net and nearly scoring. They didn't, but it was a much better showing from a team that needed a goal in the period.
But then, oh, the humanity when Bollig tripped Despres. Was he okay? Better make Bollig sit for two minutes just to be safe. It would be a shame if somebody caused a horrible infraction during play. But yes - the penalty was killed, as despite the sheer prominence of special teams on the night, none of them were able to accomplish a thing.
The Flames, down a goal, spent the entire frame pressing, pressing, pressing, and affording the Penguins few chances of their own to score again. Unfortunatley, the Penguins are the better team, as they exhibited with just under three minutes left in the game. Malkin, chased by Byron, brought the puck into the Flames' zone. Downie picked it up and both Byron and Brodie were unable to get a stick on it as he immediately sent the puck to the middle, where Rob Klinkhammer was waiting to quickly redirect it past Hiller and put Pittsburgh up 3-1.
The Flames responded by immediately pulling the goalie and desperately pressing to bring themselves back within one. It's the teeny, tiny victories you can take on a four-game losing streak, because while they did lose, at least, with over two and a half minutes of empty net time, the Flames prevented the Pens from getting an empty netter. It isn't two points, or even a press to get to overtime, but hey, everything considered, that is something.
In their fits to tie the game up, the Flames outshot the Penguins 27-22, but were out-corsied 54-43 overall.
Flame of the game
A disastrous start pretty much buried Calgary right away, but there's one player in particular who constantly worked time and time again to bring his team back in it, and that guy was Johnny Gaudreau. He got the Flames' lone goal and he generated numerous chances that either Fleury had or his teammates couldn't get a stick on. For all the little ice time he had at the start of the season, Gaudreau had the second most ice time out of all Flames forwards with 17:37, including 5:01 on the powerplay. He, along with David Jones (wait what) led the team with four shots on net, all the while facing off against the Pens' top defence pairing of Letang and Paul Martin. Gaudreau remains second in rookie scoring, with 22 points in 30 games.
- I find it pretty questionable when a game has approximately a thousand (actually: fourteen) penalties called, but to call that many and not call what was easily the worst of the night? A fucking head shot that knocked a player out of the game? Are you seriously telling me that launching oneself into the head of an opponent is legal now?
- Memo to officials: head shots are significantly worse than chintzy little tripping calls. If Smid's night was over, then Despres should have joined him.
- I know I keep bringing this up, but it's true: if fighters in the lineup prevented head shots, then Smid would have been able to finish the game. His defence partner is Engelland. Bollig was there to scrum it up and get an unsportsmanlike. Both were there. He was still taken out. Goons do not prevent dirty plays. Goons do not prevent dirty plays. Goons do not prevent dirty plays.
- So, with the loss of Smid, who only played 8:33, defencemen icetimes got somewhat skewed. Like Giordano playing 29:10. That's a lot. Brodie (25:21), Wideman (23:43), and Russell (21:41) all played a fair amount as well, but not quite as much as the captain. And down a defenceman, Engelland played... all of 12:19. The first time he eclipsed 10 minutes this road trip, and pretty much just because one of the other guys got injured. Uhh, the Flames really goofed on that contract.
- What with all the penalties, there were some pretty hefty powerplay times. Giordano (6:04), Hudler (5:21), Wideman (5:06), Gaudreau (5:01), and Glencross (4:52) led the way on what was ultimately a rather unsuccessful time with the man advantage. Going zero for five on the powerplay isn't good, especially when you only manage two shots on four of them. That could have been improved, and possibly even used a shakeup in personnel.
- Meanwhile, the penalty kill did a pretty good job. After all, the Penguins have the number one powerplay in the league, and the Flames kept them off the board all five times. Giordano (5:04) once again led the way shorthanded, with Byron (3:38), Matt Stajan (3:22), and Josh Jooris (3:08) the next ones in line. Had Lance Bouma been in the lineup, you can bet he would've had significant penalty kill time as well.
- For the record, Bollig only played 6:29, had no special teams time, and was on the ice when one of his teammates received a head shot. So... remind me what the point is, again?
- Sadly, even with Giordano leading the way throughout the game, his six-game point streak was snapped and he fell behind a point per game for the first time in... well, a while. Although he had several chances to put a point on the board, and was a key player in Gaudreau's goal. Still, 30 in 31 is pretty good, y'know?
- Brodie has struggled these last few games. He's still unequivocally the Flames' second best defender, and a very good one at that, but he's just been in a funk as of late. Back to back penalties and poor responses and reactions are hurting the team. Remember, though, that this is really only his second full year as an NHLer. He'll probably break out of his slump soon enough.
- I liked watching Joe Colborne and Sean Monahan together, but Colborne isn't exactly Monahan quality. He had one CF event all game. One. Monahan had nine total (three on the powerplay), and they only spent about seven minutes apart. So once he got away from Colborne, he had a vastly superior performance.
- To end things on a light note: Raymond sure got dragged down by Penguins a lot tonight. What's up with that? Is it because he's pretty?
... the refs actually did their jobs? Seriously. Unacceptable game from them.
... the Flames shook up their lines a little more? Monahan is the best centre at the moment. Gaudreau is probably the best overall forward. Okay, you like the Hudler connection with the kids; he came come, too. I'd love to see a Gaudreau - Monahan - Hudler line work things. It would probably be really fun, and a fair amount better.
... the Flames sat Bollig because he is the worst player regularly in the lineup and there's no justifying scratching Stajan or Bouma so he can skate around and do nothing? Seriously, it's such an obvious choice. I don't care that you traded a third rounder for him. What's done is done. You're only making it worse.
Siiiigh. Well. The Flames get tomorrow off as they head to Chicago to close out their road trip. Puck drop against the Blackhawks is on Sunday, Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. MT!